The Wake Forest Demon Deacons play in the program’s biggest game in years on Saturday when they host the Duke Blue Devils inside the Joel Coliseum. The Blue Devils are ranked 17th in the nation, but were ranked 1st to start the season. There’s no denying the immense talent on the roster, but Duke enters this contest having lost three of their previous four contests. What should we expect when these teams square off on Saturday afternoon?
The Blue Devils are led offensively by sophomore Luke Kennard, who is averaging 19.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with an offensive rating of 132.7. The sharpshooter from Ohio has one of the best true shooting percentages in the country, as he shoots 60% from inside the arc, 44% from beyond the arc, and 87% from the charity stripe.
Expectations of Grayson Allen were quite high headed into the season, and with good reason. He averaged 21.6 points per game last season with an offensive rating of 124.9, but has not been the same player this season. Allen has received a lot of negative attention for his tripping incidents, but his play has left a lot to be desired given his talent. He has transitioned to the point guard role, but has had problems with turnovers and is making just 31% of his threes.
Jayson Tatum is probably going to be a matchup problem for the Deacs, as I’m not sure how Wake guards the 6’8” wing out of St. Louis. Tatum was one of the highest rated players in the 2016 high school class and has been very good for the Blue Devils. His length and athleticism have allowed him to be an excellent defensive player for Duke. However, sometimes he over dribbles and lives in the mid range too much. He has the highest usage rate on the team, and I believe that Duke would benefit from more offensive balance.
The Blue Devils are strong on both ends of the court, as they are 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 36th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They have great overall team height, as no player in their rotation is less than 6’3”, and outside of Frank Jackson all rotation players are at least 6’5”. As talented as the Duke roster is, they don’t utilize their bench very often. Five of their players average at least 30 minutes per contest. This should be a game where both teams use their starters for the vast majority of the game.
Duke’s effective field goal percentage is largely dictated by its ability to convert on the interior. They make 55% of their shots from inside the arc, and this is led by Amile Jefferson, who is shooting 61% from inside the arc. The senior is not only an excellent glue player and screen setter, but is also a very good rebounder and is effective around the basket. Doral Moore’s presence down low could be very important to prevent dribble penetration and disrupt Amile Jefferson’s shots around the basket.
An x-factor on the interior is freshman Harry Giles. Wake Forest fans are quite familiar with Giles, as he is a Winston-Salem native and Wake Forest recruited him since he was in middle school. He missed the first 11 games of the season, but is averaging 5 points and 5 rebounds since returning from injury, with his best game being a 10 point and 12 rebound performance against Georgia Tech. Giles was one of the highest rated prospects in high school basketball despite missing nearly his entire senior season, so he has the potential to be a force down low.
Duke’s defense is successful because opponents have shot just 31% from the outside against them. Part of this is because of luck but this can always be explained by Duke’s size at every position. Duke’s defense also benefits from opponents shooting a very low free throw percentage against them. Wake should have an advantage in both of these areas. They also grab a high percentage of defensive boards and limit second-chance opportunities. A key to Wake’s success in this game will be how well they can rebound the ball on both end. Duke has so much raw offensive talent that it will be essential to limit their opportunities.
The key to this game is how well John Collins can stay out of foul trouble. If he can stay on the court, then I believe he can have a damn good game. NC State’s Abdul-Malik Abu was incredibly effective against Duke on Monday night, and there’s no reason why JC can’t do the same thing. If Tatum is ever guarding Dinos Mitoglou, then I’d like for Dinos to take advantage by going to the post. Bryant Crawford had a relatively quiet performance against Syracuse, and I’d like to see him be a bit more aggressive in attacking the basket in this game. If he can dribble penetrate, then that should force the defense to collapse, which will allow him to dish to open three point shooters.
This game has the potential to be a program-changing victory for the Demon Deacons. Let’s get it done.